Conversation with Gonzalo Rabanal on his forthcoming South Asia tour
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Conversation with Gonzalo Rabanal on his forthcoming South Asia tour

Chilean artist Gonzalo Rabanal talks about the universality of performance art, one that does not need translation.

by Georgina Maddox Sep 06, 2019

An entourage of artists from Chile is due to visit India in November 2019, for a project at the Healing Hill Art Space (HHAS) in Morni Hills, which is just a few hours off Chandigarh. Every year, the HHAS, helmed by artist Harpreet Singh, plays host to a number of performance residencies and hosts the Performance Biennale.

STIR caught up with performance artist Gonzalo Rabanal, one of the senior members of the group undertaking the project in India.

Born in 1959 in Chile’s capital city Santiago, where he currently lives, Rabanal has been working in performance art for several decades, contributing to its development and prominence in Chile. He is the founding director of DEFORMES Biennale, an itinerant event dedicated to performance art in Santiago and various cities of Chile. At the Venice International Performance Art Week 2012, Rabanal presented the installation and performance De la trama del habla a los tramos del cuerpo (translates to From Speech to Body), which addresses the dissolution of the body in performance as a political act.   

With a clearly disturbing and alienating intention, Rabanal’s extensive performance work bears the imprint and urgency of analysing individual and collective situations, by tracing them through instability towards a demand for change.

His works interrogate signs, symbols and concepts connected to his environment, such as familiar, social and political patterns, which he dismantles through provocative questions rooted in private and intimate experiences of life.  

Gonzalo Rabanal at Estética de la ruina for FAAC Cuenca, Ecuador | Gonzalo Rabanal | STIR
Gonzalo Rabanal at Estética de la ruina for FAAC Cuenca, Ecuador Image Credit: Gonzalo Rabanal

Georgina Maddox (GM): Tell us about your practice as a performance artist, how did it begin and how has the journey been?

Gonzalo Rabanal (GR): My personal practice in performance began in 1987, with different groups of action art and street intervention being the most relevant work in Chile with the collective Black Angels. The purpose was to create activism against the military dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet. Then, after that stage, I started working on an individual performance, where I incorporated my father and children as collaborators. This work was relevant in my career as a performer as it allowed me to expose the issue of power relations in the family, being an autobiographical memory along with education, and it corrected my axis of theoretical reflection.

In this work, it is the weakening and expulsion of The name of the father (Jacques Lacan), the background reflection, is the great text that exposes what is happening to humanity today. Capitalism is a dissolution apparatus that dilutes any identity including the name of the father.

  • El padre y el hijo (The father and the son) at the Hemisferico de Performance in São Paulo, Brazil | Gonzalo Rabanal | STIR
    El padre y el hijo (The father and the son) at the Hemisferico de Performance in São Paulo, Brazil Image Credit: Gonzalo Rabanal
  • El padre y el hijo (The father and the son) at the Hemisferico de Performance in São Paulo, Brazil | Gonzalo Rabanal | STIR
    El padre y el hijo (The father and the son) at the Hemisferico de Performance in São Paulo, Brazil Image Credit: Gonzalo Rabanal

GM: As one of the founding members at the DEFORMES Biennale, tell us about its importance and how it started.

GR: DEFORMES began in the year 2000, with small meetings where the objective was to organise a local network of performers who worked in isolation. With the collaboration of Harm Lux (Switzerland), we took the first step organising DEFORMES One and Two, in 2002 and 2004. Then came the first International Performance Biennial DEFORMES in 2006, its latest edition being in 2016. It has been a 10-year journey and with the work and collaboration of many artists who visited us, we made visible the tactics of performance in Chile and Latin America.

We did not get financial help from the State or even private funding, it was an artist funded initiative driven by the great desire to make a difference. We managed to gather more than 600 international artists and about 300 national performers. It has been a journey that has left us with a great experience: breaking the idea that something is impossible. Today, in continuity to that experience, we intend to carry out the First International Triennial of Performance DEFORMES 2020.

GM: How did your life change after you discovered performance art?

GR: It allowed me to understand failure from a favourable view of my growth. I was able to connect to my family, my father and children, with them I grew up in this language. My daughter Valeria León is dedicated to performance and continues to work with me on some projects that are critical to my practice at large.

Teresa Varas performs Memorias Corpora (les) at Valparaíso Chile | Gonzalo Rabanal | STIR
Teresa Varas performs Memorias Corpora (les) at Valparaíso Chile Image Credit: Gonzalo Rabanal

GM: What is the relevance of performance in today's art world?

GR: It is a noble art, without pretensions of economic and this sense of having arrived on the cultural scene, except in some cases where artists have entered the ‘industry’ of art. The performance today allows us to see ourselves naked, from the truth of the bodies in the culture, being able to intervene and interface with aspects of the political, the ritual and the intimate aspects of being human. It allows us to work with affection, in our community and for the community. It is a universal language that does not need translation, it only needs the intelligence of the body in action.

El orden del discurso (The order of speech) featuring Valeria León at IV Biennale International de Performance DEFORMES, 2012 | Gonzalo Rabanal | STIR
El orden del discurso (The order of speech) featuring Valeria León at IV Biennale International de Performance DEFORMES, 2012 Image Credit: Gonzalo Rabanal

GM: What are your plans for our visit to India in November with HHARS?

GR: Our tour begins in China, Bangladesh and India, which will allow us to know more about Asian performance art. Bequeathing to India and working with the Morni Hills programme will open paths for us to relate to the performance art of India, but there will also be a great possibility of doing collective projects with the invited artists and the local community, which is very enriching for all involved. We will also work in Calcutta with the Independent PI organisation.

We will perform our pieces individually and collectively, with Valeria León (my daughter) and Teresa Varas, they have power in their work that must be made known and exposed to the rest of the world. Their work is centered on gender issues and violence against women, which seems appropriate to expose and reflect upon.

  • Memoria Voca (Vocal Memory) performed by Valeria León at Santiago, Chile | Gonzalo Rabanal | STIR
    Memoria Voca (Vocal Memory) performed by Valeria León at Santiago, Chile Image Credit: Gonzalo Rabanal
  • Pasos de memoria-9° (Memory Steps) performed by the Gonzalo family at the Hemispheric Performance in Montreal, Canada | Gonzalo Rabanal | STIR
    Pasos de memoria-9° (Memory Steps) performed by the Gonzalo family at the Hemispheric Performance in Montreal, Canada Image Credit: Gonzalo Rabanal

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About Author

Georgina Maddox

Georgina Maddox

Maddox is an independent critic-curator with 18-years-experience in the field of Indian art and culture. She blurs the lines of documentation, theory and praxis by involving herself in visual art projects. Besides writing on immersive art for STIR World, she is a regular contributor for The Hindu and Architectural Digest.

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